The "Arab Spring" designation harks back to the term "Spring of Nations", used by some historians to describe the European revolutions of 1848. Despite its Eurocentric character, the term could however prove useful when comparing the European revolutions of 1848 and those in the Arab world between 2011 and 2013.
After all firstly, just as in the Arab Spring, the revolutionary aspirations of 19th century Europe didnʹt stop at national borders. They gradually took hold in France, Germany and Hungary and ultimately gave fresh impetus to the protests that had previously erupted in Italy. In the same way, in the wake of its initial beginnings in Tunisia, the Arab Spring spread to Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.
Secondly, the revolutions of 1848 were motivated by a profound sense of the urgent need to overhaul the status quo – even if Republicanism, as in the case of France, wasnʹt the only alternative up for debate. The definitive form of the political systems that the 1848 revolutions hoped to install may not have been entirely clear. Nevertheless, the bolstering of democratic institutions and the integration of broad swathes of the populace into the political process were fundamentals on everyoneʹs list of goals.
Rentier economies versus imminent revolt
In my view, the Arab Spring revolutions also emerged from the realisation that the political power structure in the Arab world, the foundations of which were laid shortly after the end of World War One, had outlived its usefulness and must be overcome. After all, all Arab regimes had failed to provide minimum levels of developmental progress and stability. Moreover, they werenʹt even able to defend their territory.
Even those Arab states that attained a tangible improvement in living conditions for their citizens did not do this on the basis of a shrewd and sustainable development policy. They owed their success to a rentier economy based on trading with natural resources such as oil and gas. A success that was always accompanied by a fundamental democracy deficit and a lack of political co-determination rights for the populace.
Countries without oil deposits also relied on this kind of income source and propped up their economies on remittances from their nationals working in oil-rich states. Revenues thus generated undoubtedly helped to stall more widespread protests and provided regimes and rulers with a grace period that in some cases lasted decades.
The legacy of the Arabellion
In other words – just like the "Spring of Nations" – the causes of the unrest in the Arab world were both structural and historical. It was not the outcome of a single specific moment in time. The failure of states in the Arab world following the attainment of independence is a complex and multi-factorial phenomenon, which among other things manifested itself in the Arab uprisings of 2011-2013. Even the flight of millions of people from the Arab world to Europe to escape Islamist terror can also be seen as resulting from this failure.